Come And See His AgonyDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 4, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
The time of Jesus’ trial was near as He collapsed in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a cup that He had to bear—our sins and separation from the Father.
Yet, in His agony, He groaned, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
Do we follow in His obedient footsteps? Our lives and circumstances may not change, but do we desire to carry out the Father’s will, regardless of the outcome?
There are two famous gardens in the Bible. There’s the Garden of Eden where Adam fell, being succumbed by the devil. And then there’s another garden. It’s called the Garden of Gethsemane, where the second Adam (That’s how the Bible refers to Him.) or the last Adam, also had a tremendous fight with the devil and with His own will. And yet, there He overcame. The word Gethsemane means wine press or I should say grape press. That’s where olives and grapes were sometimes pressed. Well, I like to think that in Gethsemane there, it’s as if Jesus Christ, the flower of God, was crushed, and from Him came the beautiful aroma of salvation.
I think that when we come to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the passage that I am using is Matthew 26:36, though the other Gospels have an account of it as well, perhaps as nowhere else we see His humanity. You know, sometimes we think to ourselves, “Jesus can’t be my example because, after all, He was God. He had a divine nature so He really doesn’t understand me and my struggles.” Well, I want you to know today that He did not depend on that divine nature when He lived as man. That’s why He prayed. That’s why He was thirsty.
One theologian put it this way. “Jesus never found relief in His divinity from human suffering. He didn’t suddenly slide over to His divinity and say, “This is too much as a man,” but rather He took refuge in prayer. So as you see Jesus here in the Garden wrestling, remember that that is an example for us because sometimes we have to also wrestle in the presence of Almighty God.
But here we see His humanity in different ways. For example, He asks the disciples to come and pray with Him. Matthew 26:36-37 says, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.” I’ll stop there for a moment.
Notice that Jesus said, “I am going through so much. This is going to be so bad that I can’t go through this alone.” And sometimes we need friends beside us. Sometimes we need people who are there for us because the need is so great. The emotional torment and the agony are beyond human comprehension, and therefore, we need someone next to us.
I remember counseling a woman whose husband had run off with their child. She was in distress and in despair and hopelessness. And I said, “Are people praying with you?” She said, “Well, at church people tell me they are praying for me.” And I said, “That’s not really the question. The question is, “Are they praying with you? Are they getting on their knees with you and agonizing, because sometimes we need people next to us when we suffer?” So Jesus said to Peter, James and John, “You have seen Me in My glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, you three disciples. Now, I invite you to see Me in My agony. Come, be with Me.”
We see the humanity of Jesus also in His honesty in revealing His feelings. In the next verse (verse 38) we read, “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’” Have you ever been sorrowful, even to the point of death?
You know sometimes we say to ourselves, “Well, you know, if you are filled with the Spirit, if you are walking in the Spirit, you are always going to have emotional tranquility. Everything is going to go well, and you are never going to be in despair. You are never going to suffer depression. You are never going to experience the excruciating emotional turbulence.” Oh yeah? Jesus was perfect and sinless, and look at Him there in the Garden with His soul troubled to the point of death. And there are some of you who are listening who probably have at times been troubled to the point of death.
My wife and I know a couple whose son committed a murder, and when they heard of what he did, and I will not give you all of the details, which make it even more difficult, the wife said that she rolled out of bed, lay on the floor, and was unable to get up for hours. Her soul was troubled even to the point of death.
Jesus here was in great, great agony. Oh, He knew that He was going to do the will of the Father. He had already agreed that He would do that, but now it was crunch time. Now the cup that the Father had given Him was very near at hand, and what we’d like to do in the next few moments is to actually just simply go through and answer two questions. What is the cup? And how did Jesus accept it?
First of all, the meaning of the cup! You’ll notice that as He prayed, He says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
What is this cup that He must drink? Well there have been various theories throughout the years. Some people have said, “Well, the cup is His human suffering. Just think of what He’s going to go through. The torment awaits Him.” And those of us who have seen the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion, know now a little bit more of what that human suffering was about. And it was beyond all imagination. And they say, “It is that suffering. Just look at the lashes and the crown of thorns.”
But that’s not the real cup because you know that the Romans crucified other people this way. I read one time that there was something like 30,000 crucifixions a year among the Romans, so that isn’t the cup. But if we’re to look at Jesus as someone who is going to inspire us as to how to approach death, if I may say it, this is not a very good example that you and I should approach our death this way. Even if it would be a horrific death, it can’t just be that.
Other people have said, “Well, the cup is that Satan wanted to kill Him in the Garden,” and they say that His soul was sorrowful unto death because the devil wanted to kill Jesus there to keep Jesus from the cross. The problem with that is that that’s giving Satan an awful lot of power that he might not have. You remember that Jesus said in the Upper Room, “The prince of this world comes, but he has nothing in Me.” In other words, he has no authority over Me. Jesus successfully was able to reject Him and to resist Him through all these years, and we expect now that Jesus would be able to do that here.
It seems to me that Satan was working in a different way. He had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Christ. Now that’s the way the devil was working, and the devil probably did want to keep Jesus from the cross, but it’s unlikely that he was trying to kill Him there. But there’s another reason why we know for sure that that’s not the right explanation. It’s because after Jesus goes through the agony of Gethsemane, after He experiences all that, it is then that we read in John 18:11, when Peter tried to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest (Well, actually he didn’t try to cut off his ear. He was aiming for his head but missed, and Peter ended up cutting off his ear, missing his target by about six inches.), that Jesus said, “Peter, put your sword up.” And now here are the crucial words, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?” The cup still had to be drunk after Gethsemane. It was not that Jesus was trying to survive satanic attack as the devil tried to put him to death. That was not the cup.
What then was the cup? The cup was the knowledge that He who now was among sinners was going to be reckoned with them. The cup was the fact that He would be separated from the Father. The cup was that He would become the sin bearer for those who would believe on Him, and that He would bear their sins, and their penalty – the severe penalty which the Father put upon Him, and that He would bear that on His own to the point of being separated from the Father during those difficult hours on the cross.
Now think about this: How long is hell? Well, hell is forever. Is there a lot of suffering in hell? Does one person suffer a lot in hell? Yes. What if you took all of the suffering – the infinite suffering of hell – and you compressed it into six hours, with Jesus Christ bearing our hell, paying our penalty so that you and I might be forgiven? Do you now begin to understand a little better that as Jesus looked into that cup He saw it in all of its ugly awfulness, in all of its horrendous pain, and emotional turbulence? Do you understand that?
So Jesus is here saying that this cup is so overwhelming. His soul is going to writhe in torment in ways that we cannot describe. We can say the words but we can’t describe it. And in this way Jesus knows that redemption is going to be accomplished, and as a man His soul is shrinking from the very mission for which He came to this earth. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” That’s the cup of suffering that Jesus Christ wrestled with.
Well, that’s the meaning of the cup. Now we get to the acceptance of the cup. Thank God for the last part of verse 39, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You wilt.” “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” It depends on which translation you have. This one says, Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will.” In those simple words was the determination of Jesus Christ to go through with it and say, “Father, if the cup has to be drunk, if there is no other way to redeem humanity, if there is no other way for Me to be obedient, Father, if there is no way out, Thy will be done.” So Jesus there in the Garden accepted the will of the Father, bowed humbly to receive from the Father’s hand this bitter, bitter cup that He determined to drink.
There were actually three cups on Calvary. There was the cup of compassion. You remember when they brought Jesus to Calvary it says the first thing they did was they tried to give Him some myrrh mingled with wine. That was a sedative to try to make it easier. It was a cup of compassion. They’d give that to prisoners who were being executed. Jesus refused it.
Then there was the cup of mockery. Jesus was there crying, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” and they misunderstand Him, and then somebody takes some cheap wine that the soldiers had – some cheap vinegar wine – and they take it and they put on a sponge and they put it to His lips, almost mocking Him. Exactly how is that going to help His excruciating thirst and the agony?
But there was a third cup on Calvary and that was the cup that was filled with iniquity, as He, the sinless Son of God, would be made sin for us. That was the cup. And Jesus refused the sedative because when it came to drinking the Father’s cup, He did not want a sedative. He wanted to drink it straight and drink all of it so that you and I could be redeemed.
Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
‘Tis empty now for me.
And those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior, those of you who think of Him as a great prophet, as a great man, someone whom you admire but not someone who you are cleaving to, to be your Savior, I urge you to quickly come to Him because if He has not borne your iniquity, you shall bear your own for all of eternity.
It is here in the Garden that Jesus receives the strength to receive the Father’s cup. You’ll notice it says He finds the disciples sleeping in verse 40. That’s a picture of the Church today. Great social transformation, great need, time of great agony, and we are asleep, just acting as if history is going on as usual. And He says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
I love this. Jesus did not say, “Watch and pray so that you may help Me.” He says, “Watch and pray for yourselves that you may not enter into temptation.” He said, “The spirit is willing.” Oh yeah! “Do you want to do this?” Yeah! Sure, we’ll be with you. We’ll pray. We’ll give. We’ll go. Ah, but when it comes to crunch time, the flesh is so weak.
He prays a second time (verse 42). “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done,” and again He finds them sleeping because their eyes are heavy. “So, leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” It’s okay to pray the same thing again and again as you spill out your heart to God. Jesus did.
What are some of the lessons that we learn, the take-home value of all this for ourselves? First of all, some of our most earnest prayers go unanswered. You know, here is Jesus, the Son of God, praying in agony and the Bible says in the book of Hebrews that the Father heard the Son pray, but there is no way out, and so Jesus has to endure the cross.
Now, I need to say that I believe that all of Jesus Christ’s prayers were answered. That’s not true of us, but all of His were. You say, “Well, God didn’t answer Him here.” Yes, He did because you’ll notice that Jesus didn’t pray, “Father, get Me out of this and take Me straight to heaven.” I believe that if Jesus had prayed that, that’s what the Father would have done, and said, “Well then the whole human race will all go to hell. Come up and be with Me.” But Jesus didn’t pray that. Jesus knew that His desire might be that He might find another way, but at the end of the day He says, “I yield My will to You, and if I yield My will to You tonight, I will yield My body to You tomorrow because the body is going to follow the will. And tonight here in Gethsemane Thy will be done,” said Jesus.
Well, we don’t get all of our desires when we pray, do we? Some of you have agonized before God regarding healings, regarding circumstances, and sometimes all that we can do is to go with Jesus and say, “Father, this is my desire, but at the end of the day, Thy will be done.” And you need to pray not because you get your desire. But you need to pray so that you get the strength to accept whatever it is that God gives you.
Ivan, in a Russian concentration camp, is a Christian, and he is praying to his God with his eyes closed. And another prisoner, making fun of him, says to him in ridicule, “Ivan, praying is not going to get you out of this place any sooner.” And Ivan says, “I’m not praying to get out of this place. I’m praying for strength to do the will of God.” And sometimes we pray for strength to do the will of God, and it is not our desire because we have other desires which may even be good desires, but at the end of the day we say, “Thy will be done even at great personal cost.”
Second, our cups (This is critically important.) must be accepted from the hand of the Father, not from the hand of people. Let me say that again. Our cups must be accepted from the hand of God, not from the hand of people, no matter what their intention is. You know Jesus in John 18:11 did not say, “Now the cup which the Sanhedrin are preparing for Me, must I not drink it?” He didn’t say, “Now the cup which the Jewish leaders are preparing for Me, or the cup that Pilate has in mind for Me, shall I not drink it?” or “The cup that the Roman soldiers are preparing for Me, shall I not drink it?” No, all of that was part of the cup, but He says, “The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
So you look at the dilemma that you are in today. You look at the human conflict. You look at the agony, and what you will discover is that at the end of the day, you must receive the cup as from God.
Sometimes people send me poems. I receive a lot more than I ever use. Some poems have poor theology, some have good theology and some have outstanding theology. This is one of those with some outstanding theology. Listen to this.
I will not take that bitter thrust,
which rent my heart today,
As coming from an earthly soul,
though it was meant that way.
But I will look beyond the tool,
because my life is planned.
I take the cup my Father gives.
I take it from His hand.
He knows and even thus allows
these little things that irk.
I trust His wisdom and His love.
Let patience have her work.
Though human means have brought the sting,
I firmly take this stand.
My loving Father holds the cup.
I take it from His hand.
Now those who watch may wonder why
these things do not disturb.
I look right past the instrument
And see my Lord superb.
The trial, which would lay me low
must pass through His command.
He holds the outstretched cup to me.
I take it from His hand.
The cup, which your Father has given you! Shall you not drink it? Don’t ever look at the cup as coming from a friend who has wronged you. Don’t ever look at a cup as a human issue, which makes you bitter and angry, because the cup has come from the Father to do something in your life that no good time could ever possibly do. The cup comes to you from your Father.
It was William Barkley who said, “The love of God wants what’s best for us. The wisdom of God knows what is best. And the power of God has the ability to accomplish it.” Can you receive the cup from the hand of your loving, loving heavenly Father?
There’s a final lesson, and it’s the obvious one. Folks, guess what! It’s not about us. It’s not about whether or not we get money, whether or not we are promoted, whether or not we are appreciated, whether or not we get what we think we need and what we want, and marry the person that we believe should. You know, it’s ultimately not about us. It’s about the Father. It’s about the will of God. It’s about that cup that the Father gives us, and He gives different cups to different people, and we drink it as from His hand, and at the end of the day the issue is not my will but Thine. That’s the issue. It’s always the issue.
You know that I love the words of this song and I quoted it once and said that I’d love to have the words. And I always forget that we are also on the radio so I have all these folks sending me the songs. So you folks out there, God bless you. I have the words now.
My Jesus, as Thou wilt;
Oh may Thy will be mine!
Into Thy hand of love
I will my all resign.
Through sorrow or through joy
Conduct me as Thine own.
And help me still to say,
My Lord, Thy will be done.
Not my will! Not my will, but Thine be done!
Father, in our rebellion, in our hardness of heart, in our desire to get what we want and to explain to You why You should give it to us, we ask today that You might give us a sense of submission. There are many people listening, drinking some very, very bitter cups. We pray, oh Father, that they shall accept them as from Your hand, and drink them for Your glory. We ask today, Father, that You might help all of us to see that your grace that was shown to us in Gethsemane and at Calvary, and Your agony, is also our pattern at times. And may we have the same determination to do Your will and to drink the cup that you’ve given us. Grant that, oh God, we pray.
And now before I close this prayer what is there in your life that clearly is under your authority and not God’s? What is it that you need to give to Him to say today, “I receive this cup from Your hand?”
Oh Father, we know that the work that You desire to do in us cannot be done in a moment. It can begin now but it must be completed later. Work mightily in Your children. Give us unrest until, Father, we kneel with Jesus in Gethsemane and say, “Thy will be done.” We pray in His name, Amen.